Montgomery Alabama Recycling 2014

We moved to Montgomery in 2008. Our then-mayor, Bobby Bright, was immediately elected to represent our district in Congress and he was replaced by Todd Strange. Mayor Strange took office in 2009 and took only a few months to cancel our curbside recycling program.

Under Mayor Bright, we’d separate recyclable household materials from our solid waste. Trash went in the familiar wheeled green plastic cans (like we use now), and recycling went in a special orange bag that you’d set out on the curb. When you were running out of orange bags, you’d tie one to the handle of your trash bin, a special silent communication between you and the sanitation workers. They’d see your gesture and leave you a new roll of bags. The cycle would begin anew.

Mayor Bright interacts with recycling. All mayors need coloring books.

Mayor Bright interacts with recycling. All mayors need coloring books.

Mayor Strange had some good arguments for ending the curbside pickup. Public education and enthusiasm levels were low, so not enough Montgomery households were separating their trash and using the system. Also, gas prices make it expensive to run a citywide network of curbside pickup service. Worse, despite low participation, they were still picking up more recyclable materials than they could handle. For whatever reason, the recyclables were being taken to mentally-challenged workers who could only handle a fraction of what they were getting. What couldn’t be sorted was sent to the landfill.

Rather than fix this idiotic system, Strange cancelled the whole thing and started talking about a special magical plasma facility that would burn all solid waste, regardless of whether it could be recycled. No more time-consuming sorting. No more environmental consciousness by consumers and households. Just throw it all in the green bin, Strange told us, and this amazing new technology would “gasify” everything and turn it into electricity and the city could sell the electricity back to the power grid and we’d all get free jetpacks and hoverboots.

We were skeptical.

We wrote about the end of curbside recycling. We looked into why we could only recycle certain kinds of plastic, never glass, and complained about the new “dropoff” system. We wrote about what’s involved with driving recyclables to Birmingham. We made fun of fake civic environmentalism efforts. We hoped that City Councilor Arch Lee would continue to carry the recycling policy torch of Martha Roby after she went to Congress. We continued to look at landfill policies.

The plasma plant fell through. The city’s money spent to study the project only confirmed what we knew. It wasn’t feasible.

Then, another ray of sunlight. We were told in July of last year that a “revolutionary” new facility was coming to Montgomery (1551 Louisville St). The company’s press release said we were looking at a $35 million new facility to be open about four months from now. 110 jobs. 85 percent of the stuff headed to the landfill will go to this factory. 95 percent of recyclables will be recovered.

We are told that our trash:

will be separated using the latest in screening, air and optical separation technologies.  The system sorts and recovers commodities such as cardboard, mixed paper, metals, aluminum cans, plastics and wood based on density, size, shape and material composition.  Additional sorting will be done by hand at the site.

Organic waste will allegedly be turned into compressed natural gas. The company’s materials about the project can be found here. Another press release (with video from an unfathomably smarmy-looking corporate exec!) can be consumed here.

Other than driving plastic (and glass, and newspaper, and cardboard, etc.) to Birmingham or Auburn, what have the people of Montgomery been doing? Some have been taking things to Target, out in the Hellscape. This is not really an option. The Target has tiny little bins at the front of the store, the kind that someone might put a single Coke bottle in after shopping. This is not designed for a carload of materials. We subscribe to newspapers, the actual printed kind. We order things from Amazon that come in recyclable cardboard boxes. We generate large volumes of recyclable waste — and we don’t even have any kids. Taking stuff to Target is not an option.

Stuff that doesn't have to go to the landfill.

Stuff that doesn’t have to go to the landfill. We generate this volume regularly.

Some people take stuff to Mt. Scrap (824 N. Decatur St). This is something of an option, especially if you’re into helping a private company generate materials it can sell for profit — with no oversight as to whether they do or don’t just dump everything into the landfill.

We have been taking stuff out to McInnis Recycling Center (4341 Norman Bridge Rd.), which is one of the city’s official “drop off locations.” This isn’t ideal. On Sundays, you have to compete with the traffic from the Fresh Anointing International Church, which sounds like a pretty fresh location that is full of anointed folks and one rented cop trying to direct an armada of cars spilling out onto Norman Bridge Road. Also, bin size is relatively small.

McInnis Recycling.

McInnis Recycling

These are your only two options. For whatever reason, the place at Huntingdon we once used has closed up shop. We don’t know why. In Montgomery, information about recycling is hard to come by — just fragments from rumors and dreams. Maybe that’s why we blog about it all the time. We’re just citizens grasping at straws, wishing our city could help us to minimize our impact on the environment.

Look, we accept the fact that a lot of people in Montgomery probably think of recycling as some kind of Maoist lifestyle plot that goes hand-in-hand with yoga, vegetarian cults and Obama’s “War on Coal.” But conservation has a long tradition and ought to make sense when resources are finite.

Maybe one day we will get a tour of the Infinitus Renewable Energy Park at Montgomery (also known to insiders as IREP at Montgomery). And maybe there’ll be some kind of oversight to ensure that the landfill-bound materials end up where Infinitus says they will. We don’t need to invoke the specter of the Downtown Plume to underscore the importance of not letting companies (and state agencies) have a free hand when it comes to discharging toxins.

We’ll check back on this issue in June, which is the date that the new plant is scheduled to open. Surely the company will issue some sort of press release and the city will have some sort of ceremony. A ribbon may be cut and the Montgomery Advertiser will republish some magniloquent press release. And people will keep filling their trash cans just like nothing ever happened. No sorting, no thinking.

Primitive. Hopefully, soon a thing of the past.

Primitive. Hopefully, soon a thing of the past.

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39 responses to “Montgomery Alabama Recycling 2014

  1. I hate to say that recycling would be way too much work for most people in The City of Dreams. I mean who can you pay to sort your trash? I already have a yard crew, a cleaning lady, a tutor for the kids, daycare, a handyman, and a church to give the rest of my money to.

  2. There actually is a third option; there are large green recycling bins next to tha AUM softball fields and in the parking lot between Bear Elementary and the original Flip’s location on Atlanta highway, where mixed recycling can be dropped off. I’m unsure if they’re run by the city or a private enterprise, but I find the Atl. Hwy. & Perry Hill Rd/Dalraida more convenient than going out to Target, as you mentioned.

    • Thanks Elizabeth. Good info to know! Any idea whether they take glass? Or what flavors of plastic they take? Isn’t it funny how we have no idea whether they are city-run or some private enterprise?

      • Montgomery Alabama is about to open the most advance recycling facility in the country and it was paid for with 100% private funding. In June 2014 Montgomery is projected to recycle up to 85% of its MSW. This number would make Montgomery one of the MOST Sustainable cities in the country (national average is 29% recycling of MSW). All the technology is commercially viable and recycle rates are GARENTEED in IREPS contract with Montgomery. If those rates are not achieve the city does not pay a tipping fee. The city is projected to make millions off of recycling and fixed CNG costs for a new fleet of trucks, instead of loosing 2 1/2 million dollars a year on a recycling program that did not work (the reason Strange stopped the program). What ever does not get recycled cost the company money to dispose of in the landfill. That tells me that this company wants to recycle everything in the waste stream to be more profitable instead of paying to landfill waste that must go to landfill (non recyclables). That sounds pretty good to me. Am I missing something? Infrastructure like this will get municipalities to zero waste someday in the near future. I commend the mayor and Montgomery for being good environmental stewards and leading the way for the rest of the country to follow.

  3. We use the bins in the dead mall (bordering South Blvd). They have many options; however, I’m not sure if they will stay long. Folks seem to be using them as dumpsters and not recycling. I dropped a load of cardboard off today. The entire thing was filled with kitchen trash. (I used to use the ones at the Unitarian church, but those were removed).

    • I love how it’s a covert mission based on rumor and guessing. Recycling: Catch the Intrigue!

    • There are several “dead malls” on South Blvd. Montgomery Mall is the best-known but there are others. The building at Fisk Road is one.

      People who have lived here longer than me can remember what they were.

  4. We use Mt. Scrap, which has worked out well for us, except that you should not go there at night unless you never want to be heard from again.

    I’m glad y’all are staying on top of the recycling thing. I scoffed at the plasma thing, and although we all knew it would fall through, I was still sad about it. And the skeptic in me is intensely skeptical about this new facility. But we’ll see.

  5. The video of the executive is nothing. Here’s a REAL bobblehead–

  6. I found out today that Office Depot will do computer recycling. There is a charge for it, though. (Also, always remove your old hard drive before you trash or recycle a computer).

  7. What’s missing, Sustainable?

    A spell check.

  8. I also used the ones at Huntingdon before they were inexplicably moved. I now use the ones at Lagoon park (you can get there from East Blvd or by turning off of Federal/Cong Dickerson). They take plastic 1’s and 2’s, cardboard, paper, and non-specified metal (I hope they take tin cans, because I put them in there). Sometimes I miss Atlanta where I could curbside plastic 1-7’s, most metals, etc.

  9. Worth reading as a follow-up to the much-hyped plants being proposed around the nation. Turns out, we aren’t the only one: http://www.dailyclimate.org/tdc-newsroom/2014/04/incineration-waffle

    • Incineration is not sustainable and I applaud these communitues for not going ahead with this type of technology. Creating CNG from an anaerobic digester is the most environmental friendly way of treating organics since nothing is burned. Montgomery is getting the most advanced facility to process MSW in the world! !! I just found out April 14 is the grand opening of this facility in Montgomery. I plan on seeing this facility first hand. I dont know when i will get another chance to see it so I will see you there. Clearly people who compare this facility to incineration are not educated about this system and how it works. Get educated about these types of systems and how they actually work before commenting about them being all hype. I am not a fan of certain politicians but interested in doing a better job recycling. I do realize some people only see the glass half empty when in fact it is half full.

  10. Is this facility still expected to open tomorrow?

    • April 14 is the grand opening. The Montgomery chamber of commerce is sponsoring an event from 5pm to 7 pm. The public is invited. The governor and mayor will be speaking about the facility. If you want to see what this facility is going to do for Montgomery you should go.

    • Did you go? It was impressive! !!!

  11. Do you have a copy of the feasibility study the City did in 2010 that showed gasification was not feasible? I wonder what has changed. The latest article on the Montgomery Advertiser suggests to me they want to do refuse derived fuel, or grind all the carbonaceous stuff including plastics into pellets and burn them.
    Fighting the same company in Houston. We have to stop this mixed waste mrf gasification industry from destroying reduce, reuse, recycle.

    • Stetson23
      It would help if you became educated on what IREP is doing in Montgomery. I was at the grand opening to find out exactly what was going on in my backyard. I spoke with the IREP team and they informed me they would be creating CNG from organics via an anaerobic digester. The team is strongly against burning any recycled material. I think you are confusing IREP with some paralysis or gasification company or the first company Montgomery had a deal with 5 years ago (they could not get funding thank goodness). At no time was it said they were going to grind plastics into pellets and burn it. IREP mentioned they were looking at technology for there residuals heading to the landfill in order to get to zero waste. Maybe this is what you are referring to? In short you should do you research about what is going on in Montgomery because your comments dont match what is Actually happening here. Waste is viewed as commodity that just needs to be separated out of the waste stream. Recycling is what it is all about not incineration! !!!

    • I agree with you on gasification (not feasible) but the study you are referring to was a different company. It was mentioned by the mayor in his speech at the grand opening. The city chose to recycle instead of gasification. We have the same environmental beliefs and are saying the same thing. So why are you so against this completed project. Do you own the recycling company around the corner afraid of all the recyable commodities about to enter the open market?

      • I work for a recycling advocacy group. All the articles about the MRF suggest that after anaerobic digestion is implemented, the final phase will be “engineered fuel” a.k.a. Trash Burning through refuse derived fuel (RDF), gasification or pyrolysis. Incineration methods like those compete with recycling for materials like paper and plastics and create air pollution. You can check out our report at zerowastehouston.org: “It’s Smarter to Separate.”

      • sustainable

        Your information is about Houston and its current RFP thats out. IREP Montgomery is demonstrating themost advanced one bin system based on recycling in the country. They have no plans of adding a gasification phase according to IREP employee at grand opening. The people from Houston were at the grand opening and I questioned them if IREP was responding to there RFP. The answer was an abrupt NO (Laura Spanjan). I found out the reason why. IREP would not respond to Houstons current RFP because of the engineered fuel (gasification) clause in the RFP. It is not part of IREPs business plan according to IREP employees to burn valuable commodities. I think you are on the right path to oppose one bin as it applies to the way Houston wants to manipulate the waste stream. The way I see it 25% of the waste stream currently sent to the land fill from IREP Montgomery today is not enough material to justify the cost of ANY garbage burning facility. Dont confuse IREP Montgomery with HOUSTON and its want a be one bin for all system disguised as a gasification system. Montgomery seems to be doing it right but time will tell.

  12. I’ve been scouring the materials to be recycled but I haven’t seen glass. Am I missing it? Why isn’t that recycled here? I collect mine and take it to B-ham or up to Phoenix city when I visit family. Aren’t the plastics and other recyclables baled up and sold to be remade into other products? Why is glass any different?

  13. The public service information about when we can finally start putting our recyclables out with our trash with the certainty that it won’t go directly to the landfill is very ambiguous. I was aware of the grand opening of the IREP facility last month, but what has not been made clear is when it will be fully operational. In sleuthing for that information, I rediscovered this blog. Sustainable, was anything mentioned at the grand opening about when the facility will be fully launched?

    Also, stetson23, you are neighbors of mine! I would love very much to get together with you to discuss more about responsible disposal of usable waste in Montgomery as I and friends of mine have been interested and involved in recycling since the 1970s. I have fond memories of carpooling with a friend as we hauled our very young children and our glass to Brockway Glass Company, now long closed, to drop our glass off for recycling. I now take my glass to Target, but only in small batches as they are not set up for large donations. Paper, plastic (#1 and #2) and, yes, even small metal items I drop off at Mt. Scrap. #5 plastic we save for our periodic visits to Birmingham or Atlanta where we can put them in the Preserve Gimme 5 bins located in Whole Foods. Cooking grease and oil can be saved and dropped off at the various Grecycle locations in town. Best Buy and Lowes have bins for various electronic and other recyclables including used gift cards. There are other options for recycling that have been listed in other comments on this page, and I am always on the alert for new places to which I can haul my trash!

    Of course, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to do so much recycling because the general culture would support “Reduce” and “Reuse”! I am old enough to remember returnable soft drink bottles which the bottlers washed and reused. I am almost old enough to remember glass milk bottles as well! Those days are over in large part, but not completely. Earth Fare does sell a brand of milk that is sold in returnable glass bottles. However, now this type of waste management is done on a very conscious, individual basis rather than as part of a general civic culture. If any of you are interested in what living a hyper-conscious life of (near) zero waste is like, I highly recommend Bea Johnson’s book and blog Zero Waste Home. She is hardcore but also very inspiring. Every little thing each of us does adds up!

    • Tess, you have the same exact questions that we do. We’ll try to stay alert and find something out. Total failure on the part of the city to let people know what to do with solid waste. Please keep coming back here and leaving comments if you learn anything. We’ll keep trying to find time to write and explore.

    • Tess
      At the grand opening they said in the middle of May all the waste within Montgomery will be processed through this facility and whatever cannot be recycled is sent to the landfill. This facility is projected to recycle up to 85% of Montgomery s total waste stream. If this is proven to be true Montgomery would be recycling as much as San Francisco (BEST rate in country). I am sure the politicians will let us know if this will be the case. I sure hope its true. The place looked like a crazy super sorter fully automated with people for quality control like a factory.

  14. Thanks for your speedy responses! I called Chris Conway at Montgomery Public Works this morning and, as he was not available, left a voice mail message. Once I hear back from him, I will gladly pass on any information.

  15. I heard back from Chris Conway yesterday, and he said we could now put our recyclables in our garbage cans with our other trash as the IREP facility is now accepting them.

  16. Does this include newspapers?

  17. Yes! Newspapers, magazines, cardboard, scrap paper, #1 and #2 plastic, aluminum and steel are all included.

  18. It's Not Easy Bein' Green

    I called the Sanitation Dept this morning before I read these comments. The phone system transferred me to Montgomery 311. That rep put me on hold for a few minutes, then came back on the line and said she’d spoken to someone in Sanitation. She said the recycling center is operational, and I should just put my recyclables in the dumpster. I asked if I should bag them or throw them in loose, and she said throw them in loose. This makes sense. I assume the magic multimillion dollar sorting system would rather not open every trash bag. Still, for those of us who’ve been separating recyclables, it would be nice to have SOME sort of guidance from the city on what we should be doing differently. “For want of a message, the battle was lost.”

    • I cannot like this comment enough. Is a city-wide press release all that difficult? Would it be so bad to do some kind of public education campaign and tell people how to do it (or not do it)? Thanks for calling and sharing what you learned. It sounds like we still need to separate recycling, just keep it out of our usual kitchen trash bags.

  19. The Montgomery City Council will hold a public hearing on proposed changes to the city’s solid waste ordinance on Tuesday, June 3 at 5 p.m. The proposed ordinance amends the garbage fees for commercial pickup and removes the curb side pick-up of leaves unless bagged. It’ll be in the Council Auditorium, City Hall, 103 North Perry Street, Montgomery, Alabama. Anyone wishing to be heard for or against this item may do so at that time. http://montgomeryal.gov/index.aspx?page=947

  20. Stetson23, would it be possible for you to write an update after that meeting? I will be out of town that day and so will unfortunately not be able to attend.
    Many thanks.

  21. More questions than answers with this magic recycling. Did the City pay for this or was it totally financed with private dollars? If so, how long is the contract tie up the City and how will IREP be able to be profitable when they compete with such insignificant landfill fees. Recycling, especially with this magical plan, costs a lot of money and is the reason why you see these kinds of plants in the northeast and California. Even there, you still separate recycling from trash, and the trash is run a 2nd time so that you extract anything that was missed. The recycling industry is not supportive of this kind of process. It trashes paper products, which is a valuable commodity in the SE, from being recyclable and will just be composted whenever that phase gets finished. 60% or 85% or whatever the number will be, is diverted from landfill, not all is recycled. They cannot be selling commodities at that level without the composting facility running.
    All the misinformation or lack thereof adds to the secrecy and suspicion of what they have to hide. If it is such a great plan, why are they not running field trips and promotional opportunities everyday! Too good to be true usually is. I’m sure Sustainable will have an answer for all these questions since they seem to have the inside scoop.

  22. I’ve just moved to Millbrook from Pensacola, where we had curbside recycling, and I’m extremely disappointed at the lack of recycle facilities here in the area. Even if the municipalities can’t support curbside pickup, it’s stunning that there aren’t adequate community recycling bins. I challenge the mayor and council members of Millbrook, home of the Alabama Wildlife Federation, to make recycling a priority in 2015.

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